The Mercedes A-class has evolved into something quite different from the technical showboating of the original Mk1 monobox back in 1997. Fast forward twenty and a bit years, and the new Mercedes A-class hatchback ups the ante with a more conventional look, some impressive interior tech and a more enjoyable ride.
We’ve now comprehensively tested every engine in the Mercedes A-class line up – bar the recently announced A35 AMG special – and this review covers every powertrain you can get in the new A-class, plus how it drives on UK roads. So, is the new, fourth-generation Mercedes A-class a legitimate Golf-rival, or just another overpriced Mercedes hatch? Keep reading for our full, updated verdict on the all-new A-class hatchback to find out.
The new interior: A-class debuts MBUX
For the past few years, Mercedes, Audi and BMW have been locked in a technology arms race, and it’s not just the flagship models such as S-class or 8-series models that are benefiting: The new A-class hatchback now has one of the smartest interiors Mercedes has to offer.
Step into a well-specced A-class and you’re greeted with a clean, premium-feeling cabin slathered in leather and pinsharp, modern widescreen displays (see below). The latter are a central part of the cabin, and control just about every auxiliary function the new A-class has. And, trust us, there’s a lot functions. Thankfully, however, the all-new MBUX infotainment system is polished to within an inch of its life, and HD graphics make the whole experience more like using a flagship smartphone than a ‘entry-level’ hatchback.
MBUX is not quite as easy to use as Audi’s offering, nor as intuitive as BMW’s iDrive, perhaps, but it’s a marked improvement over the previous A-class. Interestingly, Mercedes has scrapped its rotary, click and touchpad controls for a more simple track pad layout – and on the whole it works well. Despite not being as tactile as the old system, the new system is still easy to use: There are hard shortcuts for home, nav and all those useful bits, and it also has OCR so you can write in navigation queries. We particularly liked how swiping left and right at the top of the pad changed tracks.
It might not have the total eyes-off design of the rotary dial, but it’s easy to get used to – and when combined with the new wheel’s hand controls, it’s an overall better experience.
Oh, and because the American demands it, the main screen in the A-class is also a touchscreen – which does occasionally make things a little easier.
The natural speech recognition is especially clever. Commands like ‘phone home’ and ‘play Metallica’ worked every time as did requests like ‘take me to Stamford.’ However, there are legal issues at play; it’s why the A-class will open the sunroof blind for you, but can’t open the sunroof. Either way, Mercedes tells us this system will only get better, as it’s being updated over-the-air throughout the car’s life.
Eyes forward to the Widescreen Cockpit (7.0 inches standard and 10.25-inches as an option) and the levels of customisation are seemingly endless. Switching between graphics of the trip computer, media, maps and driver assistance displays is done through fingerprint-size touchpads on either side of the wheel – itself borrowed from the larger Mercedes S-class. Again, it’s not as immediately intuitive as Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, but the technology on offer is still seriously impressive.
Gripes? It’s not a perfect cabin: we found the stalks operating the indicators (left) and gearlever (right) too damn flimsy; they totally let the side down, feeling cheap and moving with a less than pleasing, poorly engineered action. We in fact often selected Neutral rather than Reverse.
They’re at odds with an otherwise first-rate cabin; we can’t think of another family hatchback with a more knock-out interior.
What engines can you get?
This is your engine list for the new A-Class:
- A180d diesel
- A200d diesel
- A180 petrol
- A200 petrol
- A220 petrol
- A250 petrol
For the A180d, 1.5-litre four-cylinder diesel producing 114bhp and 192 lb ft of torque, good for 0-62mph in 10.5 seconds and a top speed of 125mph.
And, if we’re being honest, it feels all of its double-figure 0-62mph time. Overtakes need to be undertaken with written notice, while accelerating uphill onto a motorway requires a good few seconds of pedal-to-the-metal action to get things going. It falls short of being too slow, mind, and the sharp throttle map means it feels perky at low speeds.
Happily, refinement has been improved over the previous A180d. There’s still an unmistakable diesel clatter, but only as the rev needle ventures into red line territory. The rest of the time it’s hushed and smooth enough for pleasant motorway cruising.